Review by Paul M. Ingram
The cause remains a mystery, but in early October 1947, a fire incinerated the entire Phoenix streetcar fleet. The city, suddenly without a public transport system had two choices: rebuild the fleet from scratch or follow Los Angeles and purchase buses from General Motors.
To General Motors’ glee, the city picked the buses, setting the city on a pattern of public transport that remained for sixty years, ended only by the opening of the city’s new light-rail system. By then Phoenix’s sprawling development had metastasized into the enormous megapolis that balances on the edge of complete failure.
Phoenix may be a metropolis jinxed by the myth of its namesake. The valley was once the center of Hohokam culture, but was abandoned simply because life there became unsustainable. The modern story isn’t much different, the city depends on water from the drought-stricken Colorado River delivered through the Central Arizona Project.
It is this city that Andrew Ross, Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, has decided to study the pratfalls and successes of sustainable development.
Ross draws on interviews with hundreds of Phoenicians, including state legislators, urban planners, developers, green business advocates, community activists, and energy lobbyists, to develop a history of the city and its future as a growing city in the desert.
By understanding the history of the city, Ross is also able to appraise its future and thus gives a road for a future Phoenix shifted away from sprawl and endless subdivisions to sustainable culture.
With aplomb, Ross evaluates the difficult relationships between politics and green development, as well as the state’s drive toward anti-immigrant laws like SB1070. He criticizes what he calls “eco-apartheid” noting that wealthy Phoenicians can afford clean air and mountain views while poor residents suffer in toxic pollution. Ross calls upon readers to reconsider sustainability, arguing that small individual gestures aren’t enough. To really change the city’s future, and for that matter the future of southwestern United States, a significant change must happen.